I’ve gotten more than my share of nice notes and had meet-ups with former students and I know they’re really the thing that pays dividends in this job (it isn’t the prestige or the paycheck, I’ll tell you). I got one of those notes this morning, tethered to a request which, if I fulfill it, will produce some links and a post sometime in the future. In any event, whilst uploading the new version of Skype this morning, I traipsed on over to Rock’s Backpages (a phenomenal archive of music writing from the 20th century), and had another look at Lester Bangs’s “How to be a rock critic,” an essay that I find wonderful in almost exactly the same places I find the tone totally unrelatable, and in which he plays mentor to aspiring writers…sort of badly.

“Dear aspiring rock critics,” he writes (I paraphrase), “You won’t get rich, you won’t get laid, you won’t be catapulted into a career of any kind,” so….

you can get drunk free a lot and that’s always a pleasure, even if you do usually have to sit through some shit like John Prine or Osibisa just for a few glasses of gin.

Sure, you’re prostituting yourself in a way, but so are they, and what are most modern business, social or sexual relationships if not a process of symbiotic exploitation?

It is such a CRASS sentiment, even if that’s a sort of cool attitude to have in media industries (and, as this 1974 article suggests, has been for a while). And it isn’t true, or, at least, doesn’t need to be. Bangs’s mistake is transposing a dominant tendency, or even a personal complaint, into a claim about a field. He’s got some expertise–he was probably the most well-regarded critic of his age, at least in the rock biz–but he can’t see the forest for his own tree. For example, he claims:

it don’t mean shit except exploitatively and in the zealotic terms of wanting to inflict your tastes on other people. Most people start writing record reviews because they want other people to like the same kind of stuff they do…

But of course that’s just a segment of critics. There was then, and is now, markets for lots of different kinds of critics, including the kind that produce big page views and little else about them matters (no matter how talented and wonderful they would be, if allowed to be so).

Okay, remembering that whole thing just made me too annoyed to go on. Check out Rock’s Backpages, and check out Lester Bangs, and be your own person, no matter what some hip asshat tells you.


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